Coffee Corner With The Editor: The Mortifying Ordeal of Being KnownNov 03, 2022 02:06PM ● By Ashley Hunter
I was not yet even to the front counter, with its lineup of baked goods behind glass and the posters declaring this week’s specialty blends.
I was halfway to the front when the chipper, “Hi Ashley! The usual, right?” came from the girl behind the bar.
By the time I’d exchanged a friendly greeting in return and moved up to the white tablet to check out, the barista had already put my order in - she hadn’t needed me to order a thing out loud.
She already knew what I wanted: a hot latte, no sugar, no syrups, whole milk, and extra espresso shot.
It struck me, as she asked about my plans for the day, about how work was going, and expressed a hope that I was taking time to take life slow…I was known.
Some years ago, there was a phrase swirling around the internet (Tumblr in particular loved the phrase) from author and New York Times’ essayist Tim Kreider - “The Mortifying Ordeal of Being Known.”
The phrase came from a piece Kreider had written for the Times, in which he discussed how terrifying and anxiety-driving it can be to be known and perceived by others, and how it can create a sort of cerebral whiplash when we realize that we exist in the minds of others.
My career in journalism has always been separated from my life; I’ve worked in towns, written news for communities, and cultivated a personality in areas far from my own hometown, my own community.
It provided a sense of safety: I could escape being known, go home, and have no one recognize me.
I covered news in a community that was several counties away from where I lived, and I liked it that way - I was known while I was at work, but I could slip away and not be known by anyone when I returned to my home over an hour away.
After all, being known and recognized is a mortifying ordeal - it means eyes are watching us, minds are knowing us, and thoughts cultivated about us even when we are not in the room.
But, there is a second aspect of Kreider’s phrase.
“If we want the rewards of being loved, we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.”
Standing in that coffee shop, the barista knew details of my life, the exact way I like my coffee, and peppered her preparation of my drink with little comments of conversation…I felt known.
I had never realized that in my frequent stops to this little, local coffee shop that I had opened up, unwrapped my identity, and offered it to another soul to see.
I have always been a Tallahassee local - there are roads that bear the name of my grandfather, I have watched this little capital city grow, I have roots that run deep into Leon soil…but I had managed to keep from being known (intentionally).
But then, accidentally, I had let fall the armor of anonymity.
Chink by chink, the armor fell and the ordeal of being known was offered - and wouldn’t you know it…it wasn’t nearly as mortifying as I thought it would be.
The rewards of being loved, known, being recognized, having your order memorized, your face recognized, of letting others see your life, even for a little glimpse…that far outweighs the way the alternative feels.
November is a time for loving and being loved - a time for community, connection, and communion.
I hope, throughout this month, you feel known.
I hope that November brings you the rewards of being loved.
It's worth it - I promise.